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Show me the money: GOP’s outsourcing of state government

Over the last decade or so the state has become an incubator of sorts for the conservative government policy commonly called outsourcing.

Steered by the Florida Legislature and three consecutive Republican governors, Florida has been turning over more and more state functions to private entities, arguing they can deliver the services just as effectively as state employees, but for less money.

The legislature’s regular session doesn’t start until March 5 but it’s clear already that the GOP-controlled House and Senate chambers are poised to stay the course; giving more public school money to for-profit charter schools, putting more of the state’s Medicaid recipients and the associated state and federal funding into the hands of private health insurers and outsourcing more operations within the state prison and mental health systems.

It would appear that if there’s any private entity inside or outside Florida willing, for a small fee of course, to assume what has historically been a state function, the state is more than happy to make a deal.

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The stench blowing off the Rayonier deal

It doesn’t pass the smell test.

It doesn’t even pass the “sewer sludge” smell test.

The past few weeks we’ve been treated to the spectacle of the City of Macclenny suing one of the largest real estate companies in the world.

Why? Because Rayonier balked at selling the city 114 acres north of the city limits for a “sludge field.” That’s where sewer plant waste is deposited and worked into the soil.

Now we’re looking at the prospect of throwing taxpayer funds down a rat hole seeing the lawsuit through, or alternatively, throwing taxpayer money down a rat hole pursuing an eminent domain condemnation of the property so it can be used as a sludge field.

Some choice.

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It’s ‘opposite year’ in Tallahassee

Remember opposite day? What’s up is down, what’s bad is good and what you did yesterday is the exact opposite of what you’re doing today.

Well, it must be opposite year in Tallahassee.

As the governor and state legislators and lobbyists and bureaucrats gear up for the 2013 session, I keep reading about how things that were true in Tallahassee in 2012 are no longer true. In fact, they’re diametrically opposed to that previous reality.

Let me explain.

Last year the Republican-dominated state legislature added a dozen constitutional amendments to the November, 2012 ballot, making it one of the longest, and certainly the most tedious, voting documents I’ve ever read.

The amendments slowed down the process and many precincts remained open after the 7 pm closing time on Election Day to accommodate the glut of voters still waiting in line at the polls.

The ballot arrived the same year the legislature and Governor Rick Scott passed an elections reform bill, ostensibly to save taxpayers money, shaving a week off the early voting period, essentially cutting it in half.

Many, myself included, saw this as a not-so-effective way of discouraging registered voters from casting ballots. Of course, voters tend to be a stubborn bunch, and I like to think they saw through the ruse, and turned out even more determined to cast their ballots.

But now, the Florida Legislature and Gov. Scott, heretofore considered models for cost cutting, government shrinking, free market unleashing cults everywhere, appear to be charting a different course — reverse.

They want add a week to the early voting schedule and allow more places to serve as early voting locations. They want to limit the number of amendments the legislature can place on the ballot.

After several years of budget reductions in education, healthcare, corrections and other state-funded services, the governor, at least, wants to give teachers and remaining state employees — like the many prison and state hospital workers in our area — bonuses of a few thousand dollars each.

Before, the message out of Tallahassee at this time of the year was a warning: don’t ask for additional money, you’ll be lucky if we don’t cut your funding. Now, they’re talking about a $437 million surplus. If that’s not proof of an economic recovery, I don’t know what is.

Gov. Scott, who is facing an uphill reelection battle next year, has an excuse for behaving so peculiar. His approval ratings are in the toilet and Charlie Crist still has that winning smile.

For everyone else in Tallahassee, 2013 must be opposite year.

Mental healthcare at root of curbing mass shootings

Gun control is one of those hot button issues that invites the partisan grandstanding and bickering that plagues our leaders in state and national government. But if there’s one point that the Obama administration and the NRA appear to agree on, it’s that our mental healthcare system needs some work.

As far as I can tell, it’s even more of a patchwork system than the traditional physical healthcare system and it has little in the way of an early warning mechanism that could prevent mass shootings before they happen.

It’s all too easy to dismiss the trigger men in mass shooting cases as crazy, evil or deranged and to blame their families, friends or coworkers for not doing something to stop them from committing such heinous crimes.

That pretty much gets society at large off the hook from taking responsibility for these murders or taking any action to prevent them in the future.

Deep down though, I think we all know that reducing the frequency and deadliness of mass shootings will take a collective effort to be more vigilant of each other’s behavior.

But even then, who do you call when you think there may be a problem?

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